Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting University

Today, as I was browsing Twitter, I realized that I’ll be returning to Austin yet again at the end of the month to continue my college education. I got slightly depressed, realizing that by the end of this year, nobody that I personally know will still be in high school. Even more insane to me is that I’ve already completed two years of university, and I’m on the finishing end of my education. I figured that today I would share some of the wisdom I’ve garnered from attending the top tier and highly populated UT Austin. I’ll try to keep my tips universal, but do keep in mind that UT is massive (434 acres, 50,000 acres), heavy in research and funding ($433 million), and has one of the biggest sports teams in the nation (hook ‘em horns), so I might be a little bias.

Realize Why You’re Going to College in the First Place

Something worrying that I’ve found so many of my peers go through is the sudden confusion, hopelessness, and lack of a defined path that unfortunately hits a lot of college students months into their studies. It makes sense why this happens, as many universities force their students to go through lower division and core curriculum before they really get into the meat of what they’ve come to a university to study. This period of slogging through redundant classes, along with the ever-rising tuition rates and cost of living understandably destroys children mentally, who are merely going through the motions their parents and teachers have set before them.

The solution to this is simple, but rarely ever performed by students anywhere; planning. I recognize that years of public school did nothing to prepare anyone for life after high school, I know for a fact that mine didn’t. That being said, bad teachers and negligent advisors are no excuse for not taking your own life into your hands, and to be frank things change once you get to the university or college level. I never see anybody fail in college because of a lack of developmental resources, instead, it’s because these people never took a moment from their “busy” lives to take stock of their skills and desires and figure out what they needed to do to achieve goals.

My advice to every person pursuing higher education is to realize that every second you attend your school, you are having your money stolen from you in exchange for a piece of paper. What you do in the time between spending your money and getting that piece of paper is up to you, and once your time is up there’s no going back nor is there an ability to get your money back. Before you get caught up in the lifelong commitment of student debt or commit to a scholarship/grant that requires a level of performance to maintain it, do yourself a favor and plan out your life. Don’t just say to yourself that you’ll figure out your career path after you get a degree, it is not the market or time period to do that. Instead, figure out what you want to do with your life, what kind of income you desire, what kind of social status you want to have, and how quickly you’ll be able to relieve yourself of debt after you complete your education and enter the workforce. Whoever decided to tell people to follow their dreams, without also telling them to have a defined and sketched out dream first has been doing this nation an incredible disservice. If you have the grades and the gumption to go to a university, go for it, but you’ll be much happier if you have a defined plan and not just one that involves flying by the seat of your pants.

Don’t Wait Until Graduation to Start Interning/Working

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Something that upsets me the most about university is that in almost every class I’ve taken, professors make it a point to claim that hands-on experience and extracurricular orgs will always trump classwork. At the same time, these professors burden students with hours of classwork and scores of soon to be outdated notes, leaving anyone taking a full schedule and anything short of genius level intellect the time to actually go out there and get hands on experience. I’ve taken mandatory university courses that don’t start until 7:30 at night, and keep me in class until 9 P.M, not including mandatory guest lectures or talks students are forced to attend that also eat up necessary hours. That all being said, it’s important to plan ahead for situations like this. While it’s not mandatory to be locked into an internship the first semester of Freshman year I would like to encourage people to start searching for attainable ones as soon as they can. On top of that, if you can organize your schedule in a way that leaves you time in the afternoon for an internship, I can’t recommend that enough. Ignore social media, taking classes before noon is not only doable but advisable, and by doing this you can make sure that your day ends early, leaving you enough time to fit other activities into your schedule. While people will be constantly bombarding you with, “class is your first priority, you’re a student” that doesn’t mean class should be your only priority. All college coursework is incredibly doable with just a little bit of studying and planning, and again, you’ll learn a lot more outside the classroom. The important thing to note here is that school is still an important component, because its your school on a resume that will typically get you your first internships in the first place.

Make Friends Outside Your Classes

Whether or not you join Greek Life, a spirit group, or an organization heavily tied to your major, I can’t implore you enough to make friends outside your school designated groups. The problem with having only friends in your major won’t be apparent at first,as it would seem good to have friends with similar interests and experiences. The thing is, in college, this might be the worst thing you can do. It’s imperative to have people around you that aren’t all going through the same slogs and trenches that you do everyday, and by just having a friend or two that are in totally different majors can really add perspective sometimes and reinvigorate your goals. Nothing motivates people more than having to explain what all their hard work is actually contributing to, and while having to justify yourself to your family can feel underwhelming, talking to a friend sets up a healthy drive. If you only have friends inside your class, it’s easy to grow to disdain your professors and your coursework, and it’s essential to have someone with a different experience to compare to. Having someone with less coursework than you can make you feel more determined, and someone with more can make you appreciate how easy you have it compared to them. I appreciate having friends who are aerospace engineering majors as I count my blessings I don’t have to take 8 A.M. calculus classes followed by a chemistry and physics course. Making friends outside your major is easier than ever nowadays, literally walk through an organization fair and sign up for anything that even remotely interests you. All it takes is showing up to a couple of meetings, and you’ll find people in the same situation as you, just looking for friends, regardless of background.

Sleep. Eat. Work Out.

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I’m going to keep this one short, because it’s actually something incredibly self explanatory. For some stupid reason, people put emphasis on studying and working over actual self maintenance, when those previously stated things require you to be healthy to complete them well at all. Schedule out three meals a day, and don’t miss out on eating no matter what. Treat sleep as a sacred commodity, essential for your body to keep functioning. Don’t ever get so far behind on classwork that you feel the need to skip meals or get less than six and a half hours of sleep every night. Exercising is another mandatory staple to maintaining your health, but this one is subjective to you. For some people, merely taking a brisk walk every day and stretching will be more than enough to keep their body functioning and the blood flowing to your brain. The most important thing working out will do for you is giving you a constant routine to follow, which will help you grind through the semesters and bring some much needed order to your life.

Treat Your Body With Respect

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Something that may seem contentious to most, yet is incredibly important to me, is to make sure that you treat your body correctly and not to let current societal norms guide you to make a wrong decision. If you go to a campus like mine, there’s literally a party around every corner on every floor of every apartment. You can’t walk down major streets without seeing people openly smoking marijuana, and I’d say a third of all students have fake IDs so they can buy alcohol from day one. If you’re in Greek life, expect to be force fed drugs and alcohol, and if you want any chance of getting accepted in be prepared to undergo some serious hazing. For any skeptics, there is a genuine rape culture on college campuses, it’s just not the one activists are attacking. Greek life, men, and rich people aren’t responsible for the ridiculous amount of STD’s and rape on campus, it’s the very culture of college life that promotes it. Society acts as if it’s healthy for kids to be sexually stunted, kept away from all vices as if each one is equally harmful, and then suddenly once they turn 18 they’re allowed to live on their own, with unlimited access to parties that contain all sorts of debaucherous behavior. Recognize that if you’re a female, and you get invited to a frat party for free, it isn’t free. Sure you won’t be paying for the ridiculous amount of alcohol you’ll be drinking and marijuana you’ll be smoking, but every single guy throwing that party is expecting your body in return. If you’re fine with that, and make sure you use protection at all times, go ahead. Don’t be surprised though if constantly going out to drink, constantly hooking up with people, and pumping your body full of drugs leads you to an early grave. While it might seem cool in the moment to try out all of these experiences that weren’t appropriate for you to try just a year ago, I warn you to do everything safely and in moderation. If you do choose to party, please never walk alone. If you’re in public, keep an eye out for danger at all times. I know that you’re a good person, but not everyone around you is. UT has learned this lesson both years I’ve been there, first with the horrific murder of Haruka Wiesner, the second with the stabbing of Harrison Brown. No matter how much security the university claims to have, no matter how well lit the street is, do your best to never walk alone, to never put yourself in a room you can’t easily leave, and impair your senses so you can’t be aware of your surroundings. The last thing you want to think about when going off on your own to the school of your dreams is that you’ll come across danger, but the thing is you’re an adult now, and that means you’ll be living in the adult world. People do nasty things to other people, and as unfortunate as it is you have no control over them. You do have control over your body though, as well as your actions. You still have to live your whole life after your four years, there’s no need to take things too fast, too soon.

To Wrap Up

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I apologize if these tips don’t seem as fun or optimistic as a BuzzFeed article or something from the Odyssey. The fact of the matter is that during my time at UT, I’ve seen a lot of talented and awesome people go through a lot of self inflicted troubles. There are things that are out of your hands, but all of these are things you can choose for yourself. Keep these tips in the back of your head as you begin your college career. You’ll be paying a lot of money to get your diploma, make sure you enjoy your time doing it.

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